Meet & Eat: Roger Dagorn, Sake Samurai

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

"There are also some dishes just aren't a good match--for example, Irish stew doesn't pair well with sake."

20090205rogerdagorn.jpgJust the term "Sake Samurai" evokes fantastic mental images and a major coolness factor. Although there were no battles involved in earning the title, it's still quite impressive. Roger Dagorn, a fifteen-year veteran of Chanterelle, is one of the few Sake Samurais in the world, and that's in addition to being a Master Sommelier. Roger tells us his favorite sake bars, pizza (it lies in Penn Station), and thoughts on calf's liver.

Name: Roger Dagorn
Location: Tribeca
Occupation: Sake Samurai, Master Sommelier, Chanterelle

There are only 17 individuals in the world given the prestigious title "Sake Samurai," awarded by the Japanese Sake Brewers Association. How did you become one of the elite? I was invited because of my interest in sake pairings at Chanterelle. We host annual dinners at the restaurant where I select and pair fine sakes with Western cuisine, prepared by chef David Waltuck. Last year we hosted our 10th annual sake dinner.

You are also a Master Sommelier. How does the study of sake compare to the study of wine? When you study to become a Master Sommelier, you learn about all alcoholic beverages. I approached my studies of wine and sake the same way.

You participated in an international sommelier competition, the International Concours Mondial des Sommeliers. What did you have to do? The competition consisted of a series of detailed examinations--a combination of written and service tests, and of course, blind tastings.

What dishes pair best with sake? The concept of small dishes with sake works very well. There are also some dishes just aren't a good match--for example, Irish stew doesn't pair well with sake.

Do you have any advice for sake beginners? There are a number of good books, but the best way to learn about sake is through tasting. Go to a sake bar and take detailed notes while sampling different styles, quality levels, and from a variety of producers.

Sake can be somewhat intimidating to those who aren't in the know. Any guidance for novices on reading a sake menu and selecting a sake? Don't be shy about asking lots of questions. Seek out someone in the restaurant who knows about sakes, and ask them to help you select. Generally they will lead you to what they would consider a higher quality of sake.

Where in the city do you like to go for sake? My two favorite sake bars are Decibel in the East Village, and Sakagura in the basement of a Midtown office building.

Best pizza in the city? Caruso's in Penn Station.

Favorite burger? The one I make at home, which I cook until it's perfectly medium rare and serve with sliced onions, melted cheese, and a pickle.

Favorite bagel? Bagel Go Round in Long Island.

Best late-night eats? Macao Trading Co. in Tribeca.

Undiscovered gem? Chef Anita Lo's West Village restaurant, Annisa.

Food you won't eat? Calf's liver.

Most memorable New York City meal? It was one of our annual sake dinners at Chanterelle a few years back. Chef Waltuck prepared a nine-course degustation dinner, which I paired with sake. Dinner included dishes like warm lobster salad with fresh white truffles, oysters with sauerkraut and black caviar, foie gras sauté with baby beet greens and beet vinaigrette, and cocotte of free-range chicken breast with wild mushrooms. Dessert was this incredible chocolate and fig gateaux with rice ice cream.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? David Eng, who always recommends the best Chinese restaurants.

What's the best recommendation he's given you? Ping's Chinese Restaurant on Queens Blvd. in Flushing.

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